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Army Stops Many Soldiers From Quitting-Extends Enlistments to Curtail Troop Shortages

Discussion in 'Legal' started by w4rma, Dec 29, 2003.

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  1. w4rma

    w4rma member

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    Army Stops Many Soldiers From Quitting
    Orders Extend Enlistments to Curtail Troop Shortages

    By Lee Hockstader
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Monday, December 29, 2003; Page A01


    Chief Warrant Officer Ronald Eagle, an expert on enemy targeting, served 20 years in the military -- 10 years of active duty in the Air Force, another 10 in the West Virginia National Guard. Then he decided enough was enough. He owned a promising new aircraft-maintenance business, and it needed his attention. His retirement date was set for last February.

    Staff Sgt. Justin Fontaine, a generator mechanic, enrolled in the Massachusetts National Guard out of high school and served nearly nine years. In preparation for his exit date last March, he turned in his field gear -- his rucksack and web belt, his uniforms and canteen.

    Staff Sgt. Peter G. Costas, an interrogator in an intelligence unit, joined the Army Reserve in 1991, extended his enlistment in 1999 and then re-upped for three years in 2000. Costas, a U.S. Border Patrol officer in Texas, was due to retire from the reserves in last May.

    According to their contracts, expectations and desires, all three soldiers should have been civilians by now. But Fontaine and Costas are currently serving in Iraq, and Eagle has just been deployed. On their Army paychecks, the expiration date of their military service is now listed sometime after 2030 -- the payroll computer's way of saying, "Who knows?"

    The three are among thousands of soldiers forbidden to leave military service under the Army's "stop-loss" orders, intended to stanch the seepage of troops, through retirement and discharge, from a military stretched thin by its burgeoning overseas missions.

    "It reflects the fact that the military is too small, which nobody wants to admit," said Charles Moskos of Northwestern University, a leading military sociologist.

    To the Pentagon, stop-loss orders are a finger in the dike -- a tool to halt the hemorrhage of personnel, and maximize cohesion and experience, for units in the field in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. Through a series of stop-loss orders, the Army alone has blocked the possible retirements and departures of more than 40,000 soldiers, about 16,000 of them National Guard and reserve members who were eligible to leave the service this year. Hundreds more in the Air Force, Navy and Marines were briefly blocked from retiring or departing the military at some point this year.

    By prohibiting soldiers and officers from leaving the service at retirement or the expiration of their contracts, military leaders have breached the Army's manpower limit of 480,000 troops, a ceiling set by Congress. In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee last month, Gen. Peter Schoomaker, the Army chief of staff, disclosed that the number of active-duty soldiers has crept over the congressionally authorized maximum by 20,000 and now registered 500,000 as a result of stop-loss orders. Several lawmakers questioned the legality of exceeding the limit by so much.

    "Our goal is, we want to have units that are stabilized all the way down from the lowest squad up through the headquarters elements," said Brig. Gen. Howard B. Bromberg, director of enlisted personnel management in the Army's Human Resources Command. "Stop-loss allows us to do that. When a unit deploys, it deploys, trains and does its missions with the same soldiers."

    In a recent profile of an Army infantry battalion deployed in Kuwait and on its way to Iraq, the commander, Lt. Col. Karl Reed, told the Army Times he could have lost a quarter of his unit in the coming year had it not been for the stop-loss order. "And that means a new 25 percent," Reed told the Army Times. "I would have had to train them and prepare them to go on the line. Given where we are, it will be a 24-hour combat operation; therefore it's very difficult to bring new folks in and integrate them."

    To many of the soldiers whose retirements and departures are on ice, however, stop-loss is an inconvenience, a hardship and, in some cases, a personal disaster. Some are resigned to fulfilling what they consider their patriotic duty. Others are livid, insisting they have fallen victim to a policy that amounts to an unannounced, unheralded draft.

    "I'm furious. I'm aggravated. I feel violated. I feel used," said Eagle, 42, the targeting officer, who has just shipped to Iraq with his field artillery unit for what is likely to be a yearlong tour of duty. He had voluntarily postponed his retirement at his commander's request early this year and then suddenly found himself stuck in the service under a stop-loss order this fall. Eagle said he fears his fledgling business in West Virginia may not survive his lengthy absence. His unexpected extension in the Army will slash his annual income by about $45,000, he said. And some members of his family, including his recently widowed sister, whose three teenage sons are close to Eagle, are bitterly opposed to his leaving.

    "An enlistment contract has two parties, yet only the government is allowed to violate the contract; I am not," said Costas, 42, who signed an e-mail from Iraq this month "Chained in Iraq," an allusion to the fact that he and his fellow reservists remained in Baghdad after the active-duty unit into which they were transferred last spring went home. He has now been told that he will be home late next June, more than a year after his contractual departure date. "Unfair. I would not say it's a draft per se, but it's clearly a breach of contract. I will not reenlist."

    Other soldiers retained by the Army under stop-loss are more resigned than irate, but no less demoralized by what some have come to regard as their involuntary servitude.

    "Unfortunately, I signed the dotted line saying I'm going to serve my country," said Fontaine, 27, the mechanic, who said he spent "20 or 30 days" fruitlessly researching legal ways that he could quit the Army when his contractual departure date came up in February. "All I can do is suck it up and take it till I can get out."

    The military's interest in halting the depletion of its ranks predates the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. American GIs in World War II were under orders to serve until the fighting was finished, plus six months.

    Congress approved the authority for what became known as stop-loss orders after the Vietnam War, responding to concerns that the military had been hamstrung by the out-rotations of seasoned combat soldiers in Indochina. But the authority was not used until the buildup to the Persian Gulf War in 1990 when Richard B. Cheney, then the secretary of defense, allowed the military services to bar most retirements and prolong enlistments indefinitely.

    A flurry of stop-loss orders was issued after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, intensifying as the nation prepared for war in Iraq early this year. Some of the orders have applied to soldiers, sailors and airmen in specific skill categories -- military police, for example, and ordnance control specialists, have been in particular demand in Iraq.

    Other edicts have been more sweeping, such as the Army's most recent stop-loss order, issued Nov. 13, covering thousands of active-duty soldiers whose units are scheduled for duty in Iraq and Afghanistan in the coming months. Because the stop-loss order begins 90 days before deployment and lasts for 90 days after a return home, those troops will be prohibited from retiring or leaving the Army at the expiration of their contracts until the spring of 2005, at the earliest.

    The proliferation of stop-loss orders has bred confusion and resentment even as it has helped preserve what the military calls "unit cohesion." In the past two years, the Army alone has announced 11 stop-loss orders -- an average of one every nine or 10 weeks.

    Often in the past year, the Army has allowed active-duty soldiers to retire and depart but not Guard and reserve troops, many of whom have chafed at the disparity in policies. Some Guard troops and reservists complain their release dates have been extended several times and they no longer know when they will be allowed to leave.

    "We don't ever trust anything we're told," said Chris Walsh of Southington, Conn., whose wife, Jessica, an eighth-grade English teacher, is a military police officer in a National Guard unit in Baghdad. She may end up serving nearly two years beyond her original exit date of July 2002, Chris Walsh said. "We've been disappointed too many times."

    For many soldiers who had planned on leaving the military, the sudden change of plans has been jarring.

    Jim Montgomery's story is typical. Montgomery, an air-conditioning repairman in western Massachusetts, did a three-year hitch in the Army in the '90s and then signed up for a five-year stint in the National Guard. His exit date was July 31, 2003, after which he planned to devote himself to getting his electrician's license -- and to the baby he and his wife, Donna, expected in November, their first.

    "I felt like I'd honored my contract," said Montgomery, 35, a beefy, affable man who holds the rank of specialist E4 in the Guard. "The military had given me some good things -- friendships and the opportunity to take some college courses -- and that's where I wanted to leave it."

    The Army had other plans. In March, Montgomery's maintenance unit was sent for training to Fort Drum, N.Y. In April it deployed to Kuwait, and since May it has been stationed in southern Iraq. With each move, it became clearer to Montgomery that his July exit date from the Guard would not materialize. The latest he has heard is that the unit may be coming home in April, but even that is uncertain, he said.

    Last month Montgomery rushed home on a medical emergency when Donna had complications in childbirth. She and the baby are fine now, but Montgomery is frustrated by his cloudy future.

    "Some guys who are Vietnam vets are with us," he said in an interview at his home in Holland, Mass., shortly before he was to return to his unit in Iraq. "They said even in Vietnam, as difficult as it was there, you knew from the time you hit the ground to the time you returned it was one year -- whereas with this it's really up in the air."

    Some military officials have acknowledged that stop-loss is a necessary evil. When the Air Force announced it was imposing a stop-loss rule last spring, an official news bulletin from Air Force Print News noted: "Both the secretary [James G. Roche] and the chief of staff [Gen. John P. Jumper] are acutely aware that the Air Force is an all-volunteer force and that this action, while essential to meeting the service's worldwide obligations, is inconsistent with the fundamental principles of voluntary service."

    More frequently, the military response to griping about stop-loss is bluntly unsympathetic. "We're all soldiers. We go where were told," said Maj. Steve Stover, an Army spokesman. "Fair has nothing to do with it."

    Staff writer Bradley Graham contributed to this report.
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A36979-2003Dec28.html
     
  2. greyhound

    greyhound Member

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    So this we are supposed to personally blame on George Bush, get mad, and vote for Howard "Not sure if Osama was guilty" Dean? Gimmee a break...

    How many times can Dean get away with this "What I really meant was.." routine?:rolleyes:
     
  3. w4rma

    w4rma member

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    While Bush is essentially drafting these folks to stay in service longer, I am posting this because it is an *extremely* informative article about the situation surrounding the occupation of Iraq.

    Vote however you like, but don't assume things about my intentions, please.
     
  4. Marko Kloos

    Marko Kloos Moderator Emeritus

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    The current situation will cause the gutting of our Reserves and the military in general, as enlistment and re-enlistment rates will plummet.

    Of course, a year or two down the road we may be able to blame it on the Democrats. :rolleyes:
     
  5. greyhound

    greyhound Member

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    Too lazy to post a link, but didn't they also meet all their reenlistment numbers? Sure there are some disgruntled soldiers, but there are an awful lot proud to serve too.

    Sorry if I assumed a Bush bash!
     
  6. Jeff White

    Jeff White Moderator Staff Member

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    greyhound asked,

    In a word, yes. Donald Rumsfeld and David Chu are determined to break the finest force the world has ever seen in their quest to transform our military into a force where men and women merely service the machines of war. A force where everything is done cleanly from the air and there is no need for ground forces in any number. The military Times newspapers has just released a survey they took in the last week of November, first week of December. While morale is generally good and the troops overwhelmingly support the mission they are starting to feel the strain. If this keeps up, the finest military in the world will break and become a hollow force, like the one I struggled to rebuiild under the Regan administration. I have excerpted the part dealing with troop strength here. You can read the entire story at the posted link. Rumsfeld needs to go......

    Jeff

    http://www.armytimes.com/story.php?f=1-292925-2513919.php

    Troops generally satisfied, with a critical exception

    From pay to health care to quality of life, the Military Times Poll finds men and women in uniform largely content — until it comes to the strains on military manpower.

    The poll finds solid majorities ranking their pay and allowances, health care, training and job satisfaction as at least fair, if not excellent. But nearly eight out of 10 said the nation’s military is stretched too thin to be effective.

    That figure, outside observers say, should spark second thoughts for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other administration officials who have resisted calls for more military manpower. And it’s likely to add to calls from defense experts, retired officers and politicians for an increase in military end strength.

    Seventy-seven percent of those polled agreed with the notion that the military is stretched too thin to be effective; 14 percent disagreed. Although the Army is widely seen as most stressed by the demands of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, soldiers were only slightly more likely than members of other services to ask for more troops.

    In follow-up interviews, some troops said they don’t believe manpower stress is hurting combat effectiveness, but nearly all said it’s wearing people down.

    Ignoring such sentiments carries great risk, said author and retired Army officer Ralph Peters.

    “The people at DoD should take that number into consideration, but they won’t,†Peters said. “Rumsfeld … doesn’t give a damn about the troops being away from their families or anything else. He just wants to pour more money into Lockheed Martin.â€

    Indeed, the Pentagon’s top personnel official said he doesn’t believe the poll is cause for concern.

    “I’m not surprised, given the political rhetoric back home, that a significant number of people would like to see more forces,†said David S.C. Chu, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness. “That doesn’t necessarily make it a good idea. Because what they don’t have to confront, which is what the secretary does have to confront is, at the expense of what?â€

    That attitude from the Defense Department threatens to undermine progress made on pay and benefits issues, and the high morale and dedication to duty the Military Times poll found, said David Segal, a military sociologist at the University of Maryland.

    âœWe may well break the all-volunteer force,†Segal said.
     
  7. greyhound

    greyhound Member

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    OK, maybe on the whole administration but not Bush solely and personally.

    Actually, I agree with lots of this. I thought after Afghanistan the next move was to ramp up out troop strength by a huge degree, seal the borders and hunt down and deport illegal immigrants.

    Now of course, the problem with having a huge military is you have to be wiling to use it or its no good at all.

    Thus the Iraq conundrum. Rumsfeld's desire to trasform the military should never have entered into the planning.

    Listen to the Generals, leave the politicians out!
     
  8. Dannyboy

    Dannyboy Member

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    The "stop-loss" has been going on a lot longer than Bush has been in office.
     
  9. Jeff White

    Jeff White Moderator Staff Member

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    Dannyboy said;
    I beg to differ, but stop loss was last implemented under Bush the 1st during the first Gulf War. It wasn't implemented again until we went into Afghanistan. To be fair, it's usually been a limited stop loss, restricted to members of deploying units or certain MOSs although I do think that at one time recently the entire Air Force was under stop loss.

    Jeff
     
  10. Bob Locke

    Bob Locke Member

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    So much for Bush's campaign promise to review world-wide troop deployments and then start bring people home from places they have no business being.

    I am glad I got out of the Navy in October of 2000. When I saw a few friends get home from deployment on one ship and then get transferred to another that was heading back out for another deployment, I knew it was time to go.

    We've got plenty of people on active duty, they're just all over the globe. And we have both parties to thank for that, not just one.
     
  11. Bob Locke

    Bob Locke Member

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    This is a fact.

    My little brother was thinking about getting out, but he would have been blocked anyway so he stayed and re-upped. Can't recall the exact time frame, but it's been in the last 18 months or so.
     
  12. DonP

    DonP Member

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    "Stop Loss" not a new thing

    There have been several "Stop Loss" implementations, including several for key MOS's during Clinton's second term. So before you hang it all on Bush, please keep that in mind.

    For one example I know about personally Helicopter pilots were leaving the service in droves, faster than we could train them down at Ft. Rucker at roughly $200,000 and 4 months in training per pilot.

    They are stretched thin, no doubt. But it takes time to train the folks that fly the support aircraft, operate the drones etc. All the things we count on for close ground support today. Don't get me wrong, Infantry is, and always will be, the Queen of Battle (Hooah!), but she has some damn good ladies in waiting these days.

    I'm not claiming that they were all leaving because Bill was in office (I'm sure the Democratically controlled congress not passing any military salary increases for several budgets didn't help though), but they did stop the Blackhawk and other pilots and CWO's ratings from leaving for an average of 6 months so they didn't fall short in critical MOS's.

    Do they dislike it if a stop loss hits their MOS? Of course. But they all signed on for a set enlistment and with the full and open acknowledgement that their tour of duty could be extended. When you raise your right hand and take that step forward you know what you are getting into.

    The real measure of the average troopers satisfaction (or dissatistfaction) is the re-enlistment rate and that is way up along with hitting their recruitment goals. (Unless of course you are one of the folks that thinks that the evil Bush economy is forcing the poor folks into the military, then you can blame Bush for recruiting goals being met or exceeded.)

    My Dad said that in WW II the standard enlistment was for "D + 6". The duration of the war plus up to 6 months, as the government saw fit. Amazingly, not one of those people got the ACLU to file a suit ont heir behalf.

    IMHO, the "Stop Loss" will continue to come and go in selected MOS assignments.


    On a personal note:

    My youngest boy (US Army) got back from Iraq last week after 11 months "downrange" as he refers to it. The VFW and the local Boy Scouts met their plane at a refueling stop in Bangor Maine and gave them all cell phones to use to check in with us at home and let us know they were back on US soil. So the local Post and the Boy Scouts can count on me for support till the end of my days from here on out.

    Don P.
     
  13. El Tejon

    El Tejon Member

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    Of course, not necessary if we had not deactivated entire divisions. But, who can see into the future.

    Maybe now Congress will bring the 24th, inter alia. Go, gimlets, go!:D
     
  14. Jeff White

    Jeff White Moderator Staff Member

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    Don,
    I served from 6 December 1974 until 31 October 2003. I don't remember any stop loss during the Clinton Administration...not even for helicopter pilots. There was talk of it, but I don't believe it was ever implemented. And I'm far from a democrat, but there was a pay raise every year during the Clinton administration. Often it wasn't more then a percentage point above the inflation rate but it was there. I remember one year it was just enough to put me in a higher tax bracket and I actually took home about a dollar and some odd cents less each payday.....

    The sad fact is that the campaign promise that Bush made to the military..that Help is on the way turned out to be another politicians lie. As soon as they took office they decided that the democrats had closed the pay gap and have been fighting decent pay raises, concurrent receipt of VA disability and military retired pay and other benfits like commisaries and schools.

    I'm thankful your son is home safe. He has been in my prayers along with everyone else serving. My middle son is home on leave from his assignment with B-1-29th Infantry at Benning. Starts Ranger school on the 17 of January.

    Jeff
     
  15. Coltdriver

    Coltdriver Member

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    I think the military situation is just a function of our state of preparedness and the fact that we need to deter a problem. Nobody could see the future well enough to be prepared.

    I would bet a dollar to a donut that Bush instates the draft right after he is re elected.

    I am damm proud of our young people serving abroad and at home. I absolutely love my freedom and I know we are kicking the ??? of those who made the idotic mistake of thinking America would cower in fear.

    This country is well known for "grinding exceedingly fine" when it comes to abolishing problems like these terrorists.

    We will be mostly rid of them in a few years and we will lose some fine Americans in the process and we will continue to be free.
     
  16. Jeff White

    Jeff White Moderator Staff Member

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    Coltdriver,

    The drawdown started under Bush the 1st. We needed to spend the so called peace dividend. Both parties share responsibility for the sorry state of readiness. There was no big desire in the republican controlled congress during the Clinton years to fund the military at the levels it needed to be. IIRC the actual force structure we were left with was Bush the 1sts plan. Clinton refused to fund adequate training or maintenance for the troops and equipment we had left. Much of the reserve training base in the US was sold off during this time. Posts that were underutilized in peacetime, but had major roles upon mobilization were closed and sold to private concerns or given to state and local government. This created a lot of difficulty last winter as we began to mobilize large numbers of troops for the war in Iraq. There were not enough facilities to physicallly house all the troops they called up. Many spent time waiting at home station or sitting on their thumbs at mob station.

    The fact is, the politicians and people in the think tanks who advised them made some serious miscalulations. They really honestly believed that there would never be a contingency that would require a large mobilization again. We were left with the wrong mix of units in the force structure and barely enough of them to fulfill the worldwide commitments that Clinton had gotten us into. Long before 9-11 the Army had worked National Guard brigades into the Balkans Peacekeeping rotation. This was done to relieve the stress on our active units. 9-11 came along and a political decision was made not to mobilize the nation. We are fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Phillipines and Columbia, plus maintaining a large force in South Korea and keeping up with our peacekeeping obligations in the Balkans and the Siani. And we are doing it all with the same size force that we rew down to in the 90s. This is very dangerous, because if there is another crisis anywhere in the world, we have almost nothing left to respond to it with.

    You won't see a draft in the second Bush term. It would not be politically feasable. It also wouldn't be militarily feasible. You can't just wave a magic wand and create military units. If we wanted to reinsate the draft, it would take 3-6 months before we could get the selective service system out of mothballs and induct the first draftee. It would take another 15 weeks before we had our first Infantryman trained at the most basic level. So it would be six months until you had a basic level replacement ready to go into an existing unit. Creating new units out of thin air would be much harder. While six months will give us an Infantryman rady to report to his first unit, It would take at least 3 years to create the unit for him to report to. You can't draft experienced officers and NCOs to cadre these units. The only source of them you have is the retired pool. There are some in the Individual Ready Reserve but it's been long enough since the big cut backs that most of the strength in the IRR is gone. Their 8 year service obligation has ended.

    In 1940 they called up the National Guard divisions. These soldiers provided the officers and NCOs for the additional units that were created. We don't have the national guard divisions anymore. They were also victims of the peace dividend. Rapid expansion of the armed forces is no longer possible. When we drew down the reserve components at the same time we drew down the active component, we gave up that capability.

    There was no peace dividend. I believe the world was a safer place when it was divided into East and West blocks. The world became a more dangerous place after the fall of the Soviet Union. The problem was, only a few people saw that. Now we are paying. Rumsfeld's steadfast refusal to consider expanding the military is going to destroy it.

    Jeff
     
  17. Destructo6

    Destructo6 Member

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    There might have been a little something on September 11, 2001 that changed the facts some.
     
  18. Jeff White

    Jeff White Moderator Staff Member

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    Destructo6 said;
    On September 12th that promise should have been kept. When you ask people to bleed and die for you is not the best time to screw them over on their benefits. It is criminal what Rumsfeld is doing to the Army. Rumsfeld works for Bush, Bush bears the responsibility. the young men and women who are bleeding and dying everyday deserve all the support this country can give them. They aren't getting it from this administration. On September the 12th 2001 most people would have been looking to expand the military. As late as last Spring the administration was talking force cuts. They are still talking base closings. Rumsfeld is still telling congress he doesn't need any more people, even though he's working the ones he has to death. OPTEMPO has increased.

    No my friend, September 11th, 2001 isn't an excuse for breaking that promise....It makes breaking that promise criminal.

    Jeff
     
  19. jimpeel

    jimpeel Member

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    Just like "This land shall be yours for as long as the rivers flow and the sun shines." or "We will give you 20 acres and a mule". "Contract" is a mere eight leter word to the government.

    "Stop loss"? What do they think the Army is, a stock market trading in human beings?
     
  20. jimpeel

    jimpeel Member

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    "... that standing armies, in time of peace, should be avoided as dangerous to liberty; and that in all cases the military should be under strict subordination to, and governed by, the civil power."
     
  21. garrettwc

    garrettwc Member

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    I can't believe this thread has gone twenty posts and no one has pointed out that the reason we have a critical shortage of men and equipment is because the Clinton administration gutted and demoralized our military.

    My what short memories we all have.

    Before anyone flames me, I have problems with Bush and the current Republican administration as well. Patriot Act I&II, the TSA, all the compromises, from taxes to judicial appointments, etal.

    There's enough blame to go around. We can either sit here and wallow in it. Or get busy writing our congress persons, the President, and whoever else we need to communicate with. We need to share our views with others, and without becoming emotional. The more people we can get to think for themselves, and then follow up those thoughts with actions on election day, the better off we will be.
     
  22. Jeff White

    Jeff White Moderator Staff Member

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    garretwc,
    Bush the 1st gutted the military. It was his plan, Clinton just carried it out. Clinton did demoralize the military. Bush the current has had almost 3 years and a wartime congress that would give him anything he asked for when it comes to the military and has refused to fix it. Who's more to blame?

    Jeff
     
  23. garrettwc

    garrettwc Member

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    Jeff, I agree with you that Clinton carried it out, and that "W" and his administration have not pushed hard enough for policies that would help the military in particular, and the country in general. As I said, I have issues with the current administration as well.

    I have read some things on G.H. Bush (including some written by him) on gun control and other issues that do trouble me. He believes he was doing the right thing in most cases, or was getting the best he could get in a compromise with the Congress. If "W" shares his fathers views, I believe he would sign a renewal of the AWB if it makes it to his desk.

    As I am open minded, and like to have all the facts please elaborate more on George H Bush's plan as you know it. I would be interested in any articles or records you could point me to so that I can learn more.

    Taking you at your word on the hand each of the three most recent presidents have taken with the military, I would have to say the blame is equally divided.
     
  24. Ky Larry

    Ky Larry Member

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    I don't know who to blame this sorry state of affairs on. He said, she said,yadayadayada. The fact is, we're short of trained people. Morale must be terrible. The all volunteer military is a lie. Our best people must feel like they are serving an indefinate prison sentence. The damage being done to our military machine will take a generation to heal. I don't much care who caused this problem. The important thing is what's being done about it? Can you imagine what would have happened if we'd had another major situation in another part of the world, such as Korea or Taiwan?
     
  25. jimpeel

    jimpeel Member

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    http://www.sunspot.net/news/nationw...,3097719.story?coll=bal-nationworld-headlines

    Army's suicide rate has outside experts alarmed
    Most died serving in Iraq after major combat phase
    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    By Michael Martinez
    Chicago Tribune
    Originally published December 28, 2003

    LUFKIN, Texas - Army Spc. Joseph Suell had been distressed before. He missed his wife and their daughters so badly last year that he was granted a short visit home from his yearlong assignment in South Korea.
    It was a different story this year. In March, five months after completing his Korean tour and right after re-enlisting, the 24-year-old was sent to Kuwait and then Iraq.

    The day after Father's Day, Suell died in Iraq, reportedly after taking a bottle of Tylenol. His death was classified as "nonhostile," but a military chaplain told Suell's wife, Rebecca, it was a suicide.

    Suell's death comes as the military is investigating the growing number of suicides by American forces in the Persian Gulf region. Since the U.S.-led coalition invaded Iraq last spring, 18 soldiers and two Marines have committed suicide, most of them after major combat was declared over May 1, the military said.

    The Army is concerned about the deaths. Outside experts have said the rate is alarmingly high compared with the military's average suicide rates. A report by a 12-member team of military and civilian mental health professionals dispatched to Iraq in October to evaluate mental health of soldiers is expected to be released after the holidays, officials said.

    Independent experts said they hope the team's report offers some insight into the suicides. Did they result from personal issues, such as the loss of close relationships, or from legal and financial matters? Or did they involve larger, more sensitive issues about the U.S. mission in Iraq?

    Those broader questions relate to the morale of soldiers in Iraq, many of whom have complained of a long deployment. And they bear upon whether the Bush administration is over- straining its standing army with such practices as deploying soldiers, such as Suell, on consecutive tours with insufficient family time, experts said.

    Army officials have declined to comment on the potential contents of the report.

    Suell's widow and mother don't think he killed himself and wonder if the military did enough to address whatever medical problem he may have suffered.

    Suicide experts with military backgrounds say the 20 suicides in the Iraq conflict are a high number. Using the military's 12-month rate of a dozen suicides for each 100,000 soldiers, self-inflicted deaths this year in Iraq should amount to no more than 13 at this point, according to Dr. Paul Ragan, who was a Navy psychiatrist for 11 years and is a Vanderbilt University associate professor.

    Last year, the Army reported a 12-month suicide rate of 11.1 for each 100,000 soldiers and is expected to report 12 for each 100,000 this year, matching the military's overall rate.

    The current count of 20, with the Army investigating more deaths as possible suicides, is worrisome, Ragan said.

    "My educated, military, psychiatric guess is that 20 is definitely high, and it's something that needs attention. You don't sit around for months and months and see what happens," Ragan said. "In this case, there is a legitimate concern to move on this."

    "If you extrapolate to a full year," added David Rudd, president of the American Association of Suicidology and a former Army psychologist, "it would seem to be potentially high."

    While Army officials acknowledge that the suicide figure appears high, the overall number of 61 such deaths for that branch this calendar year is about average, officials said.

    The Army's 130,000 service members in Iraq represent almost all the U.S. force there, an Army spokesman said.

    The 61 Army suicides in this year compare with 68 Army suicides last year, 49 in 2001 and 63 in 2000, the military said. The Army's worst period in the past 13 years was 1991, the year of the Persian Gulf war, when it reported 102 suicides.

    Figures before 1990 were unavailable, military officials said.

    "Even with Iraq, our numbers at the end of this year aren't going to be out [of ] line with what they have been in previous years," said Army spokeswoman Martha Rudd, who is not related to David Rudd.

    "Traditionally in wars, when soldiers are fighting in combat, there are very rarely suicides, because their survival instinct is active and their adrenaline is flowing," Martha Rudd said. "But once the [war] ceases, at first you are very busy in the aftermath ... setting up where you are, but then eventually you have time on your hands, and you are miserable where you are."

    Today back in Lufkin, what troubles Rebecca Suell, 22, is how commanders didn't seem to respond quickly when her husband showed signs of distress in Iraq.

    Once he had arrived in Baghdad with his 3rd Field Artillery unit, based at Fort Sill, Okla., her husband asked her to call a commander to request another short leave. While her husband expressed urgency, Rebecca Suell said she never thought his despair was insurmountable.

    The commanding officer she spoke with made no promises and told her he would see what he could do, she said.

    "If I'm a wife and I talk to the commander, something's wrong: They didn't take the time out to see if there was a problem with my husband. They don't take time out to see what these people are going through. These people are concerned about staying alive - and they're stressed about their wife and children," said Suell, who at the time was working as a Wal-Mart cashier and raising their two daughters, JaKayla, 4, and Jada, 2, and her sister's 7-year-old son, whom the couple had adopted.

    Joseph Suell's mother, Rena Mathis, 47, and Rebecca Suell described the soldier as an athletic young man who after high school graduation held a variety of jobs.

    Suell joined the Army in February 2000 so he could have a steady job to care for his wife and raise a family.

    Rejecting his suicide, his family wonders if he maybe lost count of the pills or he had a fatal reaction to a military inoculation. Whatever the cause of death, it certainly wasn't a suicide, an ignominious fate in his eastern Texas hometown where family and military remain proud Southern traditions, they said.

    The death has put the family into an emotional spiral.

    What upsets them most is that Joseph Suell, who wanted to be a career soldier and abhorred suicide, hasn't received a hero's burial from his hometown because of the suicide finding, the family says. He was posthumously promoted to sergeant.

    The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

    Copyright © 2003, The Baltimore Sun
     
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